In a previous essay on this theme (August, 2005), we focused on the unwillingness to address--even the lack of awareness of--the needs of American ethnic continuity, by the political leaders of our major parties. There the shame was in a lack of respect for the unique qualities in America's historic lines of descent, a total want of appreciation of whom we were as peoples.
This month, we would address what we consider to be the real issue--a synthesis of the most important of the undiscussed, or little discussed, issues--among political responses in the aftermath of the disastrous Gulf Coast Hurricane "Katrina." Here, the shame will be found in the lack of respect for the most basic principles, which once governed relations between individuals and their various Governments in these United States. Admittedly, we cannot discuss this subject fairly without acknowledging the context within which decisions were made--both before and after the actual event;--as well as the full range of emotional factors involved. Yet the fact that there were extenuating circumstances, but made the actual failures to adhere to a moral foundation, all the more poignant.
But our attention, here, will directed at general concepts, political, social and economic, which must be considered. This will not be a treatise on accounting techniques or architectural issues. Nor do we intend to participate in the political "Blame Game," over who should have done what, prior to the hurricane coming ashore. It is to the discredit of the players--in both major political parties--that they would engage in such activities, which are on much the level of folks who hold up traffic to gawk at the results from wrecks along the highway, or who agree to discuss their most intimate affairs on something akin to the "Jerry Springer" show.
While there was more than enough demagoguery to go around, after the event, with everyone from Mayor to President and Governor seeking to deflect possible political damage, any failure to act in a particular way before the hurricane actually struck, is easily understood--not really a logical subject for attributions of dereliction. How many times have storms been predicted to strike at one point, yet turned to strike at another--or dissipated its force before it struck anywhere? Consider the genuine--not a rationalized--but genuine dilemma, of any politician who errs on the side of caution, and orders an evacuation of a major city, only to see the storm turn, and strike far, far away? The costs could be prodigious, not the least of which would be the spiritual cost of appearing to panic--of acting prematurely--in a way that would undermine not only personal credibility, but the ability to lead in a future catastrophe.
With hind sight, we can say that the Governor and the Mayor should have acted sooner. But we understand the dilemma, and to paraphrase the old Indian adage, have "not walked far enough in the moccasins of either," to pass personal judgment. Nor will we pass judgment on the Administration in Washington; neither praise for the less risky advice to local officials (who would have borne the blame, had the advice proven to be premature), nor condemnation for not deploying expensive resources in advance of the clearly determined need. So let us be done with second guessing, and focus on trying to determine parameters for future action. This brings us to the real issues raised by Hurricane Katrina.
Public safety is a major consideration for any Government--perhaps the most serious consideration for any Government. But the means to public safety are not something that may ordinarily be isolated on a case by case basis. The American Revolution took place when the Mother Country, which had provided our safety from the French and Indians, during the "French and Indian War," continued to maintain more of a presence for our safety, than was considered congenial to our Liberty. In the newly independent States, and in the Federal Government, which they created, Liberty and personal--that is individual--responsibility, were given the highest priorities. To American Conservatives, they have retained the highest priority ever since.
Without minimizing the gravity of the damage from Hurricane Katrina, as terrible as it may have been, it did not rise in importance to two centuries of American tradition and achievement; and the response of the politicians should have reflected some sense of balancing the needs of the contemporary emergency with a decent respect for the values achieved in that tradition.
For orientation purposes, it would be well to look at every situation, where there is a call for new Governmental action, as a fork in the road of history. The question should be, How will our response to this "call" influence our society or societies in the long run? In the case of the Hurricane Katrina, how could or can we act effectively, with the least possible damage to the continuity of our societies, their Liberty and values. Setting aside one's natural disgust for the press conferences and posturing of the politicians in New Orleans and elsewhere--the frenetic seizure of photo and TV opportunities--we may inquire as to how well these particular personalities have balanced the needs of the moment (as reflected in calls for collective action) with the individual rights and responsibilities of those who will be affected by the actions called for.
In considering this issue, we will address five specific categories--areas where a need for action was either obvious, or a response was demanded by those afflicted--to suggest areas for further discussion:
1. An immediate need for safety from the elements.
2. The need for public order to ensure personal safety at a time of social breakdown.
3. Personal hardships resulting from the disaster.
4. Decisions as to whether or not, and how, to rebuild.
5. Preparations to avoid similar problems in the future.
(1) We certainly do not fault agencies, whether State or Federal, which gave early warning of the possibility of a disaster of epic proportions. The criticism, here, would go to the attitude of some of those in Government, the suggestions of disrespect in many cases, coupled with some more serious violations of individual rights. We refer to the idea that Government, whether local, State or Federal, under a republican form, has a right to order the "Mandatory Evacuation" of citizens from their own homes for their own protection.
There may be sound reasons for a strategic retreat, at some time or another, in virtually any imaginable area of human affairs. But whether you are dealing with natural or man-made disaster--and it little matters, whether you want to treat it as the primary or secondary issue--at some point you must address the question of whom may order that retreat, and under what circumstances. It is one thing, for example, to set the available data before the public, and allow each resident of an area to determine his own response, with respect to his own affairs; quite another, to order a "Mandatory Evacuation," for all the residents of an afflicted area.
First and most obviously, an American citizen is not the property of his Government at any level. Nor is his property, and the extent of his efforts to protect same, a legitimate object over which anyone else should redefine priorities. For some, a house and its physical contents, may reflect a very substantial part of the resident's life achievement. By what moral claim of right can anyone else order him to abandon so significant a part of his life, against his will, simply to avoid a danger? To those who understand the concept of individual freedom and free will, the choice between someone else's political view of a subject individual's safety and the preservation of what is so highly valued by that individual, has to be the individual citizen's.
Unfortunately, and incredibly, when many saw fit to ignore calls for "Mandatory Evacuation" in New Orleans, some of those (including Police units brought in from other States), actually went house to house, to force people out of their homes, after the storm itself had passed. There were even pictures of an elderly woman being forcibly disarmed on her own property, to accomplish this end, which went out over the broadcast airways. While there were conflicting reports as to the extent of such outrages, can any such action ever be justified in a free Republic? We do not think so.
(2) The preservation of the public safety and order, in a time of social chaos, such as obtained in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is the primary concern of any local Government. But it is also the responsibility of every citizen. In America this has always been clear, reflected in the concept of the unorganized Militia--commonly the manhood of each State from about 18 to 45 or 50. That rescue efforts in New Orleans were delayed--and in some cases actually abandoned--because lawless elements had taken to the streets, and were shooting at those trying to help trapped citizens, attests a failure to recognize the obvious priorities under the circumstances.
The necessity for making the streets of New Orleans, as safe as possible, as the prerequisite for any other constructive action, is so obvious that one wonders why it seems not to have been understood by any of the levels of Government, immediately involved. Nor is it very difficult to determine how that purpose should have been accomplished. There should have been an immediate response to the very first report of any looting. The initial defense should have been the local Police, failing those, the Louisiana State Police and National Guard; each of whom should have been authorized to use sufficient deadly force, that all aspects of the anti-social human problem would cease to be a factor in any rescue, relief or evacuation effort.
Moreover, we suspect that had the wise counsel of George Washington been heeded in the 1780s, or at any time since, we would not have seen the looting or thuggery by bands of criminals with firearms, in the first place. It was Washington's repeated recommendation, as we have cited in other articles and will discuss in more detail in the last section of this essay, that the Militia be armed with military grade firearms, and trained in their use. He cited the case of Switzerland, which had already long employed such a system then, as it has done since, with excellent results. Where every law abiding male citizen from 18 to 50 is armed, it is a very dangerous thing for criminals to run amok--dangerous for the criminals. We will return to this theme in the final section of this essay.
(3) Questions regarding efforts to relieve personal hardships, caused by a disaster of the magnitude of the one we are discussing, are many. There is an article, linked below, on Davy Crockett, which questions the very concept of a Federal role in disaster relief. Our personal position is the same as Davy Crockett's. But, without going there, for purposes of the present discussion, we should at least be able to achieve a consensus among all moderate and conservative men and women of reason, that a disaster is not an excuse to launch new Affirmative Action or Welfare programs. It is controversial enough to set a dangerous precedent, by a new Federal bailout in the face of a natural calamity. To annex to that idea, another directed at altering the previous social and economic situation of the disaster victims by some form of wealth redistribution, which goes well beyond simply helping restore a specific loss, linked to the particular disaster, is to take the usurpation of power in America to a new low. If there is to be disaster relief, it should surely relate directly and be confined to disaster losses. It cannot justify projects in social engineering, manipulation of society, or any other socialist objective.
While we did not, and will not, fault the President for claims of Federal inaction (or delayed action), which we consider spurious, the sequence of his post Hurricane actions does point up a very serious character flaw, which needs to be understood. Yet, first, we will again put matters in context.
Although New Orleans may have suffered somewhat more severely than other afflicted towns, because of the rupture in the levee, the Hurricane wrought terrible destruction in adjacent Parishes of Louisiana and in many communities of Southern Mississippi, and even some in Alabama. Most of the property owners in the region have major losses. These losses were not racially selective in any way, but were borne alike by Caucasian and Negro, American Indian or whomever. Nevertheless, the usual collection of demagogues specializing in racial agitation, both the familiar ones and their New Orleans counterparts, sought to make a racial issue out of the political responses to the devastation. It was even claimed that there was a plot against the Southern Negro and that the Bush Administration was involved.
Such almost deranged aspersions were coupled with a general attack on the President for being slow to act (the other charge we consider ill founded). The charges probably should have been simply ignored. But in the days that followed, the President made a number of special appearances in various Gulf Coast communities, where he seemed intent upon demonstrating the extent of his emotional commitment to the Hurricane relief effort. One of these brought him to a darkened square in New Orleans, on the night of September 15th, where he appeared in his shirt sleeves, before the TV cameras, in what was Prime Time in the East, and proposed the most expensive natural disaster relief program in human history. In the course of that speech, he offered the following:
Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses. When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created.
The President went on to request other programs to upgrade the New Orleans poor, which sounded very much like a revival of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society"--his "War On Poverty" from the 1960s. The whole thrust was a repudiation of the Reagan triumph, the return to the concept of limiting, rather than expanding, the role of Government in our domestic affairs. It was, clearly, an abandonment of whatever might have been accomplished by the Republican "Contract With America" in the mid 1990s, to limit the concept of entitlements.
Clearly, the President had not blamed the poverty in New Orleans, before Hurricane Katrina, on "a history of racial discrimination." Nor had he suggested a major effort to improve the conditions of the New Orleans poor, White, Black of Coffee. Nor, we suspect, had he been keen to blame poverty on "a history of racial discrimination," when he ran for Governor of Texas. The linking of Negro poverty to "racial discrimination," has been a Socialist/Communist ploy, since the far Left found that the usual rhetoric of class warfare, fell on deaf ears in America. In the late 1920s and 1930s, they adopted "race" as a metaphor for "class," and have gotten good "mileage" on the gambit. But the idea does not scan. The same racial considerations affected both the wealthy and middle class New Orleans Negroes, just as they did the Welfare Class. People's racial preferences do not cause poverty. For a prime example, just look at the rapid economic progress of the Japanese Americans between World War II and 1947, at a time when they were terribly stereotyped, and unfairly mistrusted.
But, again, the speech had been proceeded by numerous claims of racial "discrimination," both State and Federal, in the response to the hurricane. Clearly the President was reacting: Being led rather than leading; being used, rather than standing up for the American values, he had been elected to defend.
Without agreeing that there is even a Federal role to make the people of New Orleans whole against the effects of a natural disaster; without accepting a Federal role as an ultimate insurer; clearly the fairest, most "socially responsible," concern should have been for those who lost the most. It was not the tenants in public or private housing. If anyone deserved compassion, it was the property owners, who lost both residence and property--perhaps the fruits of a lifetime of achievement--perhaps the fruits of several generations of achievement. The President's reactive emphasis on upgrading the non-achievers, was totally inconsistent with the ongoing pretense that the man is a "Conservative"--compassionate or otherwise.
Yet more poignant is the hypocrisy factor. The President also talked about job training, plans to help the urban poor in New Orleans find places in an expanding job market. But just whom, in recent years, has increasingly taken the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in construction and agriculture, which the Southern Negro once occupied? The greatest threat to the future progress of those, over whom the President gushed his intended message of hope, are the millions of illegal immigrants who have flowed, nearly unchallenged, over our Southern border while George W. Bush has occupied the White House.
(4) The question of rebuilding, after a natural disaster, really should not involve a radically different perspective than the questions involved in the original building at any location. While the public areas of Washington, D.C., involved public planning, the actual urban habitations of American cities have always grown out of a myriad of private decisions; constructed with private capital and private labor, reflecting the unique tastes of the particular inhabitants. While the Federal Government has, at various times, funded large public housing projects (since the great move to the Left in the 1930s); these have not defined the character of our urban communities. Like the drab Stalinist architecture thrust upon Eastern Europe during the long Communist occupation, such socialist housing projects have been more embarrassment than sources of civic pride; more likely public nuisances, centers for crime and dissipation, than venues for enlightenment or progress.
On the other hand, the British Labour Party--political expression of the Fabian Socialist movement--has built "model" communities in Great Britain. We doubt, however, that many visitors to the British Isles have sought them out. There were, also, planned British towns before the Socialist era, reflecting the more rigid British class structure, which in some cases may even be picturesque. But this was never the American way. The point is that each American city reflects the individualistic character of the people who settled there; who risked their capital in the building of individual neighborhoods; who deliberately chose sights reflecting their personally desired patterns of association or surrounding, and the like.
In the brief passages quoted above for our purposes, even the President acknowledged some of the beautiful and historic sites in New Orleans--that is, before he devoted far more attention to proposals for upgrading the Welfare class. Sites are historic, because they reflect the history of those who built, lived and interacted with them. A city rebuilt according to a grand plan from Washington is not likely to have the same qualities as one rebuilt, in small steps, by its rooted individual citizens, each making very personal decisions.
Of course, questions of unique and idiosyncratic architecture and culture, are not the only considerations in play. Construction projects generated by the desire of those paying the cost, whether from capital accumulations, or a combination of their capital and labor, will be far more likely to be utilized to the highest potential of both site and structure. Subsidized construction is far more likely to be under-utilized, if not neglected outright. In the specialized case of Federal projects to subsidize or rehabilitate low income housing, there is a considerable track record of both "corner-cutting," on the part of those contracting to build, and vandalism on the part of tenants and neighbors.
But we should not have to argue the point in an America, whose economy proved more clearly than almost any other in human economic history, that the market economy out performs any planned economy. The genius of the market economy is that in allowing each of us to make our own decisions, we motivate the maximum of individual physical and mental effort, and allow the most rapid response to all external phenomena. In making human progress dependent upon individual initiative and risk, we involve people more deeply; we bring out the best. Central planning is the antithesis of the genius of the market. Subsidized construction is counter-productive for all the reasons that any distortion in the free interaction of market forces is counter-productive.
(5) The future approach to natural disasters will depend, in great measure, on how the ongoing debate between adherents to the American tradition and those who seek an ever greater centralization of power and decision making, develops. We can, of course, improve our weather detection methodology, our early warning systems, flood control measures, and the like. But there are going to be instances--repeated instances--whether caused by wind, rain--or the lack of rain--earthquakes, volcanoes, meteors, or whatever, where the best laid plans will be overwhelmed. The ultimate issue, really, goes neither to the origins of the danger, nor to the extent.
We do not wish to sound like the proverbial "broken record." But the truth is patent. America has worked in our past, precisely because we maximized individual responsibility. Any approach to any contemporary issue, which loses sight of that fact, which seeks to compromise that reality in the perception of some politician that there is political gain to be had, is counter-productive. Such efforts need to be resisted; resisted with the best reasoned arguments that we can make, but resisted with a clear determination that we must not let the demagogues of our time or any future time, continue to take America down the morally debased dependency road, which must lead inevitably to a "Bread and Circus" Society, ripe for Barbarian destruction.
The answer to disaster is in the inner strength of a people, not the ego driven schemes of their public servants. Civilizations thrive by allowing a flowering of what is unique, not by stultifying character and quality in the mindless homogenization that flows from central planning and collective dependence. If we can not understand this; if we do not make every effort to make certain that our children understand this; do not recognize that those who seek to mislead us, do in fact understand this; we fail in the solemn trust that devolves upon the heirs to a Republic, vouchsafed to us by the noble dead.
The correct approach to the future, is to regain the wisdom of the past, and build logically upon it.
In the course of that same reactive address on September 15th, the President made this interesting proposal:
It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces--the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.
Now the Constitution does provide for Federal assistance to the States in some instances of domestic violence, such as occurred in New Orleans. Article IV, provides in the pertinent part:
SECTION 4. The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.
Yet there is absolutely nothing in the gravity of Hurricane Katrina, which in anyway requires a broader role for the armed forces, as an "institution of our government," than they have had in the past. We have had hurricanes throughout American history. We have had earthquakes, which have done even greater damage. Hurricane Katrina did not open up any new page in the natural history of America.
The normal relief efforts, this time, were hampered by lawless thugs. They had rifles and handguns, not tanks or planes or artillery. The idea of a President seeking to extend his personal power (for as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, that is what is being proposed) on the back of personal tragedy--however massive the scale--is consistent, not with a reasoned American approach, but with that endlessly repeated pattern by which tyranny has been introduced in other lands. It should have no place in the America, we cherish. There is, and has always been, a far better way to deal with the sort of breakdown in law and order that obtained in New Orleans.
On May 2, 1783, George Washington, the first and greatest of the Americans, presented a draft to Alexander Hamilton, entitled Sentiments On A Peace Establishment:
...to prove ...the Policy and expediency of resting the protection of the Country on a respectable and well established Militia, we might not only shew the propriety ...from our peculiar local situation, but we might have recourse to the Histories of Greece and Rome in their most virtuous and Patriotic ages.... we might see, with admiration, the Freedom and Independence of Switzerland supported for Centuries, in the midst of powerful and jealous neighbors, by means of a hardy and well organized Militia. ...
It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defence of it, and consequently that the Citizens of America (with a few legal and official exceptions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Militia Rolls, provided with uniform Arms, and so far accustomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Country might be called forth at a Short Notice...
The following month, June 8, 1783, George Washington surrendered the solemn trust of that command, which had achieved their independence, to the newly independent American States. His final report contained this passage:
The Militia of this Country must be considered as the Palladium of our security, and the first effectual resort in case of hostility...
In his various writings on the subject of the Militia, Washington also displayed a clear understanding of the psychological benefits to America's male youth, which would be afforded by regular training in the art of arms; where self-respect and youthful pride would combine with a sense of personal responsibility for the survival of their society. And certainly the history of Switzerland, since Washington wrote in the 1780s, attests both his wisdom in general, and the wisdom in selecting Switzerland as the appropriate model and example.
The Militia, as the Founding Fathers understood so well, was important precisely because it not only provided a large pool of effective manpower--the able bodied male citizenry--for the defense of our institutions. Even more important, it was independent of any standing army, and thus an essential check on the possibility of a consolidation of power, hostile to individual Liberty, in any Government. (See the essay on "The Right & Duty To Keep & Bear Arms," below.)
Surely, if the preservation of Liberty is our goal; if we understand how important the very concept of personal, individual responsibility is for all of our fundamental institutions; the Washington approach is a far wiser answer to the threat of social disintegration, as recently witnessed in the streets of New Orleans, than the request by the current President for a greater role for the Armed Forces, under his command. It is sad that Mr. Bush's answer to so many questions is greater personal power! By contrast, Washington, the true leader this President is not, could hardly wait to surrender his command, and return to his beloved plantation in Virginia. Washington understood the true strength of America. George Bush doesn't have a clue.